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This isn’t just a review of a wheelchair accessible hotel room at the JW Marriott Beijing Central. It’s also the story of unrequited love and the joy I find through travel. If you don’t want to read my hopeless romanticism, I won’t be offended if you skip over those parts.
It was July 2015, and I had just endured a long flight in economy class, on China Southern Airlines from Amsterdam to Beijing. I took the Airport Express train into the city, and transferred to subway line 2. The journey from the airport to the hotel should have taken about 90 minutes. Unfortunately, the Beijing subway is a nightmare for wheelchair users – I spent an additional hour below ground. I arrived to the hotel exhausted, frustrated, and in a generally poor mood.
Until I saw her. One of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. She greeted me, and I responded with an awkward croaking noise. I was tongue-tied and speechless. I went about the check-in process, and looked away as I rolled past her in the lobby, on my way to the elevators.
Now begins the hotel review, but I will pick up the love story in the section on the Executive Lounge near the end of the article.
I made my reservation for a deluxe room with a king-size bed, and applied a 7-night Marriott Rewards points certificate to cover the cost of my stay. While I got this stay free thanks to loyalty/rewards points, room rates are typically around $200 USD per night. I confirmed a room with a roll-in shower on the telephone with a Marriott ADA representative. Everything seemed in order, and the website listed the following as the description of the room:
“This room type offers accessible rooms with roll in showers.” Except, it doesn’t. There are only tubs with grab bars – no roll-in showers. This was an unfortunate surprise, and one that I was not expecting. The JW Marriott brand in particular is extremely good about constructing with access in mind. The hotel had just been built, opening in June 2014. I was surprised and disappointed.
The hotel staff and leadership team were extremely apologetic and came up with a solution that, while not ideal, was acceptable. More on that in a bit.
Wheelchair Accessible Room Review
Allow me to apologize in advance for the poor photography. I stayed at this hotel midway through 2015, when this website was still very new. I hadn’t yet mastered the art of writing hotel reviews, and wasn’t even sure if I would do them at all.
The king size bed, with its fluffy feather pillows and down comforter is what I love most about JW Marriott hotels. The bed is so comfortable and inviting that it is difficult to get out of! Heavenly, you might say.
There was space on both sides of the bed for my power wheelchair, and PLENTY of power outlets above the nightstand. Remember, when traveling abroad, to consider the voltage differences when charging your power wheelchair.
To the right of the bed and next to the window is a loveseat with an ottoman and coffee table. I enjoyed opening the curtains to bring in extra light, but this is Beijing and I rarely saw the sun. The smog is very thick, and it is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced respiratory problems during any of my visits to the city. If you have a history of respiratory issues, it is a good idea to consult your doctor before traveling to Beijing.
The photo above was taken from in front of the window. To the left is the corner of the desk, which was tall enough for me to roll under in my power wheelchair. Straight ahead in the photo is the flat screen television, which is recessed in the wall above a chest of drawers. To the right is the mini-bar area, which was stocked with drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and snacks. There is also a coffee and tea maker.
The photo above is the first look at the wheelchair accessible bathroom. As I mentioned earlier, it does not have a roll-in shower, but does have a great accessible tub for those who are able to use it. From an accessibility perspective, it’s a good tub, with a solid ledge and grab bars. There is even a handheld shower nozzle, which would come in very useful for me.
The bad: The towels are easily within reach, as the racks are low to the ground beneath the sink. Unfortunately, this served as a barrier to my rolling beneath the sink. I had to brush my teeth from a sideways angle as a result. This should have been designed better.
Here’s the “solution” I spoke of earlier. The bathroom floor had a drain beneath the sink. So the front office staff brought me one of the hotel’s loaner wheelchairs and positioned it next to the tub. Here, I was able to use the handheld shower nozzle. In essence, it was a makeshift roll-in shower. Unfortunately, the loaner wheelchair’s armrests did not elevate, and the transfer was quite risky and dangerous. I will give the hotel credit – they offered to assist me with these transfers, but I declined.
The hotel advertises roll-in showers on its website, and the Marriott ADA reservations agent confirmed that I would have one. I’m still frustrated by the experience, and the lack of recovery by the hotel/corporate office. The fact that the roll-in shower bullet point has not been removed from the website is disconcerting, and I will contact Marriott about that again. Misinformation is incredibly dangerous for travelers with disabilities.
That said, I am grateful for the hotel staff for doing what they could to accommodate me. And, in case you were wondering, I could have asked to be moved to a different Marriott hotel in Beijing, but I chose this one specifically due to its status as a “new” property.
The toilet in the room was accessible, but not truly wheelchair accessible. There was no space next to the toilet for the wheelchair, which meant that transfers had to be done from the front of the toilet. Given the space available in the bathroom, this was an example of extremely poor design by the architects and interior designers. Bummer!
The Executive Lounge
Access to the Executive Lounge is provided to guests on the executive room floors, and to Gold & Platinum elite members of the Marriott Rewards program. I am a frequent Marriott guest, and thus received complimentary access thanks to my Platinum membership.
The lounge is open 7 days a week, from 6am to midnight. There is an extensive breakfast buffet (with an omelette chef!), snacks throughout the day, and hors d’ouevres in the evening. Complimentary non-alcoholic beverages are offered through the day, and a selection of red and white wines in the evening.
The greatest benefit to executive lounge access, particularly in Asia, are the attentive lounge staff. The ladies pictured above took great care of me every evening in the lounge, and were happy to answer any questions I had about Beijing.
What they’re doing for me in this photo is translating a “love note” I had written for that beautiful woman in the lobby.
I mentioned before that I had taken to her immediately. While I don’t believe in “love at first sight,” I was interested to be sure. As the days progressed in my week-long stay, I had more time to interact with her (always cordially and in the hotel lobby), and my curiosity grew. Her English was not great, but she was still learning it at university.
You must be wondering, what was the text of that note?? I’ll share the English text I asked to be translated into Chinese by the wonderful ladies in the lounge here:
I think you are beautiful. I lose my breath for a moment when I see you, and I want to know you better. I would like to talk to you more, even after I leave.
Do you have WeChat? My phone number is +1 ***-***-****
I want to be your friend. 🙂
I don’t think the translation captured that precisely, but it worked… She sent me a message, and we began texting back-and-forth for the next couple of days.
On my last night at the hotel, we talked for about 20 minutes. It wasn’t necessarily what this hopeless romantic was looking for. She was excited that I had noticed her, because no one before me had, but her family was very traditional, and she would only be allowed to marry a Chinese man.
Eek! I hadn’t proposed to her! But I understood, and I respect her cultural tradition. That was that.
I love to travel, because I never know who I will meet, what experiences I will have, or the stories I’ll leave with. Looking back, this story actually brings me a great deal joy, as it was an incredibly unique and unexpected experience.
I really enjoyed my stay, despite all of the accessibility challenges in the bathroom. The rest of my deluxe room was just perfect, as were the hotel’s common areas. If you can make do with the accommodations I described, you’re sure to have a great experience at the hotel. Everyone was friendly and remarkably helpful. I even made a good friend in one of the bellmen – we had drinks one night at a nearby bar and are Facebook friends as a result. Although I didn’t leave China with a bride, I had a hotel experience to remember!
Would this hotel room have worked for you?
What do you look for when booking an accessible room?
Share your answers to these questions in the comments below!